Saturday, November 07, 2009

Benches on a Boardwalk

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," coming to you live and kicking from the great state of New (*coughcoughcoughHACKcough*) Jersey! Remember our slogan: "New Jersey and You: Poisoned Together!"

Now don't you wish you lived here too?

On Friday morning I found myself in the seaside resort of Ocean City, New Jersey. The skies were cloudless, a fine breeze stirred the sand, and I had two early morning hours in which to stroll the boardwalk before returning to the teachers' convention.

Having grown up in the mountains, I have trouble loving the beach. I've never quite gotten over that whole tidal thing. You know, water running uphill. Bothers the hell outta me.

Then there's the crowds. The tacky shops. The high prices. The lack of parking. The broiling sun. If that's your idea of vacation, you go. I'll stay at home and clip coupons.

However, on a November Friday, the boardwalk holds none of its usual nuisances. The stores are closed (no high prices). The sun is welcome (not broiling). Parking is overwhelmingly ample. And the people are few and far between. In this case, the whole seaside resort thing suddenly becomes appealing to me. I can even handle high tide without the jitters!

With soaring spirits, I set out for a stroll.

Let me backpedal for a minute, purely in a navel gaze mode. Summer before last, I went with Mr. Johnson to Ocean City to pick up the Spare from an overnight stay. Mr. J and I went onto the boardwalk, and I couldn't make it one block. My arthritic hip was so bad I just couldn't walk that uneven surface at all. It was hell.

Flash forward to 2009. The hip is fixed. I can stroll and stroll! If you've never been disabled, and subsequently fixed, you can't imagine the high it gives you to walk three miles on a boardwalk, where once you couldn't limp more than a block.

So I set out for a stroll on the quiet, postseason Ocean City boardwalk.

At first, I loved it. No people! No noise! Nothing but the waves, the sun, and the occasional biker, or the thump thump thump of a determined jogger. The stores were all shuttered. One had a sign in the window: "Open every weekend, except during bad blows." Well, I liked that. Seemed sensible to me.

I walked to the north end of the Ocean City boardwalk, turned around and started south again. Somewhere between 14th and 16th streets I had a sea change. (Imagine that!) The dead, deserted boardwalk began to weigh on my merry mood. It seemed so empty. Such a shell. (another bad pun) And so, as I turned back toward 9th street, I decided to walk the other side of the boards. The side with the benches.

There are two or three benches every 20 feet or so on the Ocean City boardwalk. Some of them face the sea, but many of them face land. I had noticed before that the benches all have dedication plaques on them. I'd just never read any. Now, in order to ignore that incoming tide, I started to study the plaques.

Major discovery here. People love their families.

The vast majority of the plaques are dedicated to departed "mom moms" and "pop pops" who brought children and grandchildren to Ocean City for a great time. Apparently these deceased grandparents were highly successful at creating happy memories. Bench after bench records how much people are missed, how much they loved the ocean, how much their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews loved them.

My family also made an annual vacation trip to Atlantic City when I was a little girl. (We lived in the mountains, so a mountain vacation was no fun. Or some such.) I remember these trips to the shore as traumatizing events. My mom had bipolar disorder, and she didn't forget to pack it in her suitcase when we went on vacations. So basically, visiting Atlantic City for a week only meant I had no place to hide from her fury.

Like most little kids who grow up far from the sea, I was afraid of the waves breaking on the shore. I didn't want to go into the water. Mom would have none of that. Well, she put up with it for a day or two. Then she lifted me up roughly, strode out into the surf, and dumped me there. Then she took a picture of me, wailing in the brine. Then she spanked me for crying.

Is it any wonder I can take or leave the beach?

Anyway, all morbid memories aside, it was quite cathartic to see all those benches, lovingly inscribed to people who doled out love and joy by the beautiful sea. May they have found the Summerlands. May they be dancing with the nixies. Forever and ever, so mote it be!

I'm sure I'll never be named on a plaque on a bench by the sea. No problem. I don't want a plaque. What I do want is the love that leads family members to bestow such honors.

To any bored God or Goddess within earshot, please hear this prayer:

May I be worthy of a bench on the boardwalk.
May I be worthy of a flower on the flood.
May I be remembered often and fondly.
May the Summerlands open to me.

Busy day tomorrow, and night school Monday. Catch you soon, my friends!

4 comments:

Sarita said...

Ouch. No wonder you don't like the beach.

I've grown up just hours from the ocean. It's not someplace we went every week, but we went often enough when I was young. People usually don't run into the surf here (too darned cold) but I almost always love getting my feet wet in the waves.

Leviathan said...

Your post brought back some memories. In the early '80's I was working for an airline and used to fly the turboprops into AC's Bader Field. A dozen steps off the airplane and you're on Albany Avenue.

The city was in a transition, much of it was still quaint older hotels, but the first casino had just been built. As I saw the new replacing the old I got a real feeling of the past slipping away. Families looking for an ocean vacation were supplanted by gamblers looking for easy money and day-trippers from the New York area.

The north end of the boardwalk wasn't yet developed with Taj Mahal, et al. That's when you could see some of the blight and poverty that defined the '70's and early '80's AC.

Thanks for prompting the memories. Went back two years ago, it's nothing like it was. Even the little airport is sharing space with a baseball park, its function replaced by the bigger one west of the city.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

i'm sure the goddess will remember you in more ways than on.

Ravyne said...

Your prayer really struck a chord with me as well....beautiful!

May you always have blessings and safe journies!